One of the highlights of any trip to Washington, D.C., is spending time walking along the National Mall and seeing the various National Monuments, Memorials, and Museums that line this area.
Between the US Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial, this area has been the site of so many important moments in US history – think of the countless marches, protests, and speeches that have happened here.
As you wander, you will see the appreciation Americans have for people who have served in the military and the dedication America has towards both freedom and equality. Of course, it has gotten some things wrong over the years, but the National Mall shows the country’s commitment towards making continual improvements to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The National Monuments and Memorials
The National Mall is quite large and distances on the map can make it easy to underestimate. It might be helpful to break up exploration over a few days. If you’re visiting in the normally muggy summer, consider spending time in the morning or early evening to avoid the heat.
If you start your walk at the Lincoln Memorial and walk in a clockwise pattern, there is a long list of monuments and memorials that you could potentially see. If you don’t have energy for a walk this long, both FDR Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial are a bit off-the-beaten-path and could potentially be skipped or moved to a walk that you do on a different day.
- Lincoln Memorial
- Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial
- World War II Memorial
- World War I Memorial
- Washington Monument
- District of Columbia War Memorial
- Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
- George Mason Memorial
- Thomas Jefferson Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- John Ericsson Memorial
And other plenty of other amazing sites that you can and should see as part of your Washington, D.C., itinerary! See a map to help make your travel plans.
If you are traveling in the summer, visit the museums and galleries during the hottest part of the day and see the memorials and gardens in the early morning or evening.
A Long Evening Memorial Walk
If you only have one evening to see as many National Memorials as possible, you can find some ideas for what you should include below. The memorials in this walk are formatted as a loop, so depending on where you want to end, what your highest priority sites are, and how many steps you think you are capable of walking, choose your starting location carefully.
The White House
The last two times we have visited Washington, D.C., we have stayed near the White House, so this is where we began our walks. While you can set up a tour of the White House through your member of Congress, we did not do this on this particular trip, mostly due to Covid concerns and other time constraints. Our 2016 tour was a lot of fun!
As you walk by, you will likely see people demonstrating one cause or another, but you can also get a fairly good view of the White House. On one of our evening walks, we even saw a helicopter taking off from the lawn! There were plenty of guard/decoy helicopters in the air and streets around the White House were blocked off, so our guess is that President Biden was on board.
World War I Memorial
German American Friendship Garden
If you want a short detour on the way to the Washington Memorial, consider stopping at the German American Friendship Garden.
Your next major stop will be the Washington Monument.
If you want to go up to the top, make sure you check their website to see if you still need to reserve a ticket in advance. During Covid times, we had no desire to be crammed into an elevator with a bunch of strangers, so we skipped this.
On a prior trip in 2016, we visited in the spring and just happened to be there for the kite festival. Amazing!
U.S. Capitol Building
From here, you could continue walking past a bunch of Smithsonian Museums toward the U.S. Capitol Building, but it is a LONG walk. My recommendation is to snap a picture of the Capitol and head towards the WWII Memorial.
If you have time during the rest of your visit to Washington, D.C., also consider scheduling a tour of the Capitol.
The WWII Memorial is located on one end of the Reflecting Pool.
With the large number of visitors in the summer, it is very hard to photograph well, but the large columns labeled with states and territories that served in the was is quite impressive.
There are also some interesting battle scenes that help you envision the sacrifice people from the US made.
District of Columbia War Memorial
If you are interested in a memorial to the local D.C. population, stop by the District of Columbia War Memorial.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the next major stop that you should make. It is interesting to reflect on the contribution this man made to society and what the US may have look like to day if people like him didn’t step up and speak about the changes that America needed to make.
At this point, you should decide how tired you are feeling and whether you want to head back towards the Lincoln Memorial, or whether you want to take the longer route to the Jefferson Memorial.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
If you chose to take the long route, your next memorial will be the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. As the only president who was elected 4 times, and who brought the nation most of the way through WWII (he died just before the war ended), his memorial is well worth visiting.
It is divided into different themes so make sure you wander through the grounds and soak in atmosphere as you ponder the various quotes.
George Mason Memorial
On the way to the Jefferson Memorial, consider a stop at the George Mason Memorial, which is dedicated to a man who had strong opinions about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I wonder what the US would look like if more people would have agreed with him and if abolishment of the slave trade would have made it into the Constitution?
If you don’t decide to walk all the way to the Jefferson Memorial, make sure you at least view it from across the water. It really is a beautiful memorial, whether you go inside or not. In the spring, it’s great to walk this way when the cherry trees are blossoming.
However, if you do make the journey, go in, read some of his quotations and ponder his thoughts on both the evils of slavery and the need for freedom of religion. During our visit, the steps were under renovation, but the inside was accessible.
At this point, you could end your walk and cross the bridge back into the city, but if you do this, you would probably want come back later and see the rest of the National Mall Memorials later.
John Ericsson Memorial
The John Ericsson Memorial is a little out of the way, but you could stop by either on the way to the Korean War Veterans Memorial or on the way to the Lincoln Memorial. This man was an inventor who revolutionized naval warfare during the Civil War and made many other technological contributions to the US.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
If you chose to go to the Jefferson memorial, it is a bit of a walk back to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. However, if you opted for the shorter walk, it isn’t too far from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
On this particular visit, the Korean War Memorial was under renovation, but it is one of my favorite memorials, so take a look at it once it re-opens.
The Lincoln Memorial is on the opposite side of the reflecting pool from the WWII memorial. As you climb the steps to the gigantic statue of Abraham Lincoln, reflect on his huge accomplishments as President.
On your way out, take a rest on the steps and enjoy the view of the National Mall. There are so many people who have contributed to society and this is a great place to appreciate these people, even if they don’t have a specific memorial dedicated to them.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The last major memorial in this loop is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Here, you will find a list of names of all the people who died fighting in the Vietnam War. It is a very sobering memorial, so hopefully you will be able to appreciate their sacrifice in silence, although given our last visit, not everyone seems to recognize this as a place as a place of solemnity and we had to wait for a large party of giggling adults to clear out. Don’t be that group!
As we circled back to the White House, we peered into the Constitutional Gardens, but we were too tired to do much justice to this area.
Whew! What a walk! If you made it, you should appreciate the sacrifice and commitment a large group of people have made. Whether you are traveling with kids or not, the National Mall is an amazing place to soak in some United States History!